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Schools Examine Budget Deficit

Shortfall necessitates cuts, but some see opportunity to improve efficiency

The Cambridge Public Schools Committee worked towards resolving a $4 million budget deficit projected for the next fiscal year yesterday, continuing a process that may ultimately necessitate both expense cuts and restructured programs.

Although the committee has been able to resolve budget shortfalls in recent years without cutting school-based expenses, many members indicated that the current economic crisis may make this year an exception.

“These are sobering times,” said Nancy Tauber, co-chair of the budget sub-committee.

A 1.98 percent growth in revenue for the next fiscal year is projected to lag far behind a 4.98 percent increase in expenditures that has been largely attributed to factors such as the high cost of staff health care and increased student enrollment.

But despite the discrepancy, Deputy Superintendent Carolyn L. Turk said that the grim economic situation could be an opportunity for the district to improve not only the cost-effectiveness of its education programs, but also their quality.

No areas have been targeted for fiscal overhaul yet, but some suggestions included reorganizing professional development, deferring school maintenance, and charging fees for student programs and transportation. Turk said that any decisions made would be in the best interests of students.

In meetings over the last four weeks Turk asked district officials, faculty members, and school committee members to brainstorm a list of areas where expenses could be reduced or reallocated.

The committee held a public hearing last night in an effort to include the community in the budget decision-making process.

“It will be really important to keep people informed, because it’s through collective thinking that we can move forward in a positive way,” Turk said.

Public input has been varied, but budget sub-committee co-chair Luc D. Schuster, said that most people tend to ask for more funding, rather than less, making cuts difficult.

“It’s much more common to hear about things they want,” Schuster said. “It’s much less common to have people advocating for something they want cut.”

Despite this year’s budgetary shortfall, committee member Alfred B. Fantini said the committee has faced tougher budget situations in the past.

In 2002, budget shortfalls prompted the district to close, combine, or move a number of schools.

“This is a budget deficit and we need to take it seriously but it doesn’t come close to what it was [in 2002],” Fantini said.

—Staff writer Michelle L. Quach can be reached at mquach@fas.harvard.edu.
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